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Kia Carnival 2021 review: S diesel

The 2021 Kia Carnival S is the base model of this year's series

The 2021 Kia Carnival S diesel is a slick upgrade of this people mover that has led the category for years.

I drove the entry-level Carnival S four-cylinder diesel for a week with my family of four (plus a few extra people), around the city, and down the coast for the weekend.

If your mission is to move up to eight people around, this car might be a good option.

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What does it look like?

From the outside this car is modern looking, with a grille and shape at the front unlike people movers of the past.

The longer bonnet almost looks SUV-like, and certainly not like the blunt nosed earlier models.

The inside follows a similar modern design with a shiny speckled strip along the dash with little diamond shapes embossed into a panel along the front, which matches the accents on the exterior. My eight-year old loved it.

 The longer bonnet almost looks SUV-like, and certainly not like the blunt nosed earlier models. The longer bonnet almost looks SUV-like, and certainly not like the blunt nosed earlier models.

In some ways it’s like the inside of this car was designed by a kid. They would say, “Let’s have shiny diamonds on the dashboard, Mum! And we want 13 cupholders, and USB ports for every passenger! Full air conditioning controls in the back seat! A flat board for playing games in the console between the middle row. Please Mum! Please!!!” 

The seats in the Carnival S are fabric and quite simple (and firm), with little option for comfort adjustments. The non-leather steering wheel cover feels quite basic, and a shiny black plastic strut on the steering wheel doesn't add much to the overall look.

In some ways it’s like the inside of this car was designed by a kid. In some ways it’s like the inside of this car was designed by a kid.

How does it drive?

This entry-level Carnival S four-cylinder turbo-diesel is solid on the road, and corners reasonably well. It doesn’t take off immediately on acceleration, and can feel a little sluggish when accelerating at speed on the freeway. 

It also has very touchy brakes, which took some getting used to. The turning circle is really tight, so maneuverability is good, especially for a car this size. 

This entry-level Carnival S four-cylinder turbo-diesel is solid on the road, and corners reasonably well. This entry-level Carnival S four-cylinder turbo-diesel is solid on the road, and corners reasonably well.

Visibility is excellent, you sit higher than a standard sedan, but not in the sky like a big SUV. The dashboard is huge, with the front windscreen giving a clear line of sight.

On the freeway the cruise control is easy to set, and automatically adjusts to the speed of the traffic in front. And I found this model very quiet, especially for a diesel.

The turning circle is really tight, so maneuverability is good, especially for a car this size.  The turning circle is really tight, so maneuverability is good, especially for a car this size. 

How spacious is it?

Space is really what this car is all about. If you’ve got a large family (or half the footy team) this car is a good option. 

Over the weekend I had my extended family in it (two children under eight, two grandparents, and my other half).

Space is really what this car is all about. Space is really what this car is all about.

My husband who is around 180cm (close to 6'0" tall) happily sat in the third row with as much leg room as the middle row. Though he did say he wouldn’t want to drive interstate sitting back there, but I couldn’t really hear him complaining from the driver's seat.

With three rows as standard, eight people could happily have room to sit comfortably. Even with the third row in use, the boot space is still massive at 1139L.

  • There is more than enough headroom for all, with this year's version boasting more space in all dimensions. There is more than enough headroom for all, with this year's version boasting more space in all dimensions.
  • My husband who is around 180cm (close to 6'0" tall) happily sat in the third row with as much leg room as the middle row. My husband who is around 180cm (close to 6'0" tall) happily sat in the third row with as much leg room as the middle row.

Even with all three rows in use we threw in luggage for four, a blow-up kayak, and two kids bikes. All that didn't even come up to the back window.

There is more than enough headroom for all, with this year's version boasting more space in all dimensions than earlier model Carnivals.

Even with all three rows in use we threw in luggage for four, a blow-up kayak, and two kids bikes. Even with all three rows in use we threw in luggage for four, a blow-up kayak, and two kids bikes.

How easy is it to use every day?

The sliding back doors make rear seats accessibility much easier than heavy swinging doors, especially for kids.

However, the model I drove did not have electric seats, so moving them about to get everyone in and out was a little stiff and awkward.

Even the placement of the lever in the middle row to move that seat forward (for access to the back row) is positioned on the far side, so reaching over and pulling it up is really inconvenient, especially with a child seat installed. 

Visibility is a breeze with the huge curved front windscreen. Visibility is a breeze with the huge curved front windscreen.

Once everyone is seated it is very easy to get on the road and drive. Visibility is a breeze with the huge curved front windscreen, and the mirrors are easy to adjust and give good coverage.

Parking is as simple as it can be in a car of this size. It's a long vehicle but the reversing camera makes it relatively easy. The turning circle is really tight, which helps in a busy car park.

The seats are a little on the hard side, so what you get in space, you lose in luxury on this model.

Parking is as simple as it can be in a car of this size. Parking is as simple as it can be in a car of this size.

I had two kids car seats (one booster and one five-point harness) and an adult happily sat in between in the middle row.

You could also put an additional car seat in the middle of the second row, and two more car seats in the back row (five in total).

How safe is it?

The Kia Carnival is loaded with safety equipment, including seven airbags (but has yet to be given an ANCAP safety rating).

The driving assist functions like lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control are super handy, especially with the distractions of a massive car full of people.

Although the lane keep assist can be a little touchy and annoying, but it is easily turned off.

The Kia Carnival is loaded with safety equipment, including seven airbags. The Kia Carnival is loaded with safety equipment, including seven airbags.

In addition, there is autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with junction assist and pedestrian and cyclist warning, rear cross-traffic alert, multi-collision braking, intelligent speed assist and speed limit warning, blind spot monitoring, high beam assist and a driver attention warning.

In the back two rows there are five ISOFIX and top tether child seat mounts, so you can now carry five child seats with three in the second row and two in the third row.

What’s the tech like?

With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connecting wirelessly (hurray!) to the 8.0-inch multimedia screen, the tech is intuitive and easy to use. 

On this model Carnival S the tech is fairly limited and standard outside of the safety equipment. The stereo is okay, but if you really want to get some car dancing happening it has its limits.

The tech is intuitive and easy to use.  The tech is intuitive and easy to use. 

How much does it cost to own?

Fuel consumption on test averaged 7.5L/100 km with a good few hours of freeway driving and shorter city trips throughout the week. This aligns pretty well with the official combined cycle claim of 6.5L/100 km.

The Kia Carnival S is priced at $46,880 (MSRP)/$50,390 drive-away, with a seven-year/unlimited km warranty, and seven years of roadside assistance, as well as capped price servicing.


The Wrap

The Kia Carnival S is a good value, spacious people mover that is easy to drive a tribe of people around in. This model is missing some comfort and ease of use features, but the kids really loved having the space.

Likes

Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Easily seats eight
Looks pretty slick

Dislikes

Lack of electric seats in this version
Comfort of the seats over long trips
Touchy lane assist alarms

Scores

Kate:

3.5

The Kids:

4.3

$43,190

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.